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The Big Unanswered Question of the German Elections

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With just a few days to go before the German federal election all the evidence suggests that Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), together with their Bavarian sister party the CSU, will easily emerge as the largest party in the German parliament, easily beating the Social Democrats who are currently the second largest party, and whose 'chancellor candidate', Peer Steinbrueck, is the only real challenger to Frau Merkel.

But this doesn't mean that the overall outcome of the election is a foregone conclusion. Due to Germany's electoral system, the CDU and CSU are unlikely to achieve an overall majority - indeed this has only occurred once in the 65 year history of the Federal Republic: in 1957 when Konrad Adenauer campaigned for reelection using the slogan 'No experiments'.

So the big unanswered question is who the Christian Democrats' junior coalition partner will be, and this is why the election is still exciting. Their current partner, the liberal FDP, has been trailing in the polls for a few years and was ejected from the Bavarian state parliament on Sunday, but this may provoke a 'save the FDP' vote on the part of centre-right voters to try to ensure a continuation of the current coalition, as seemed to occur in the Lower Saxony state election in January. Should this not happen, a 'grand coalition' comprising the Christian Democrats and Social democrats, is probably the only alternative - after all, it worked reasonably well under Merkel's first chancellorship 2005-09 and would reduce opposition to the government in the upper house of parliament.

However, due to the nature of German coalition politics the electoral performances of the other smaller parties also matter. Both the Greens and the Left Party are likely to be returned to parliament and a mathematical left-of-centre majority comprising them and the SPD is not unthinkable. However the SPD is only willing to enter a coalition with the Greens and not the Left Party due to the latter's post-communist roots and also some of its policies. A new challenger is the 'Alternative for Germany' - essentially an anti-Euro party which some polls this year implied may be capable of achieving the 5% of the vote necessary for parliamentary representation. Last year it was the maverick Pirate Party which looked likely to be the new entrant into the German party system, having entered several regional parliaments, but since then the Pirates' fortunes have literally hit the rocks.

Germany itself does not seem terribly excited by the forthcoming election. As was the case four years ago, the CDU's election campaign has focused entirely on the party's strongest asset - Merkel herself, with minimal mention of party policies. Other parties, especially the SPD, have struggled to compete and to inject serious policy debate into the campaign. Turnout on Sunday will be interesting. In 2009 it was unusually low by German standards at around 70%, but this is of course high compared with turnout in many countries.

But even if the election hasn't generated a huge amount of interest amongst the German public, it is of great interest elsewhere, especially within the EU. Given Germany's key role in the Euro crisis, governments, and citizens, across the Eurozone will be very keen to know who will be steering the Euro-ship out of the storm in the near future. Even for Britain the question of who runs Germany is a crucial one, especially if the British government seeks to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU in the future.

In the end, even if German voters have not found this election campaign particularly inspiring, in uncertain economic times, many may simply prefer 'no experiments' and vote accordingly, giving Angela Merkel the chance to become one of the great European leaders of modern times.

Around the Web

German federal election, 2013 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

German elections blog 2013 | World news | The Guardian

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